Canadian technology company GaN Systems has signed a deal with BMW Group to help power the automaker’s next generation of electric vehicles.
The capacity agreement, worth several hundred million dollars, will guarantee the German automaker a reliable supply of power transistors designed to improve EV efficiency and range, the Ottawa-based firm said.
Jim Witham, CEO of GaN Systems, would not specify the precise value of the BMW deal, nor could he share which models the automaker planned to use the transistors in. But the agreement, which will put BMW at the front of the line for the company’s new transistors, is part of an industry-wide shift toward lining up a steady supply of components well in advance, he said.
“We’ve seen during the COVID times a shortage in semiconductors, and so everybody’s really paying attention to this more now.”
Witham said the company has spent the past several years readying its transistors for use in consumer vehicles. Unlike conventional transistors made of silicon, the company’s components are based on gallium nitride, or GaN.
GaN transistors switch faster than their silicon counterparts, Witham said, making an EV’s power system more efficient and allowing designers to “shrink” other key components such as capacitors, transformers and inductors to roughly a quarter their typical size.
“That translates into value in the automotive world because anything that moves values small size and light weight.”
Among a handful of other key parts, GaN transistors can be put to work in an EV’s traction inverter that powers the main motor and its onboard charger responsible for juicing up the batteries. The efficiency gains and smaller parts can boost EV range six per cent, GaN Systems said, while also cutting bill of materials costs up to US$1,000 — mainly because of the smaller components.
GaN Systems designs its products mainly in Ottawa, but outsources manufacturing to TSMC in Taiwan.
Along with BMW, Witham said the company is working with nine of both the top 10 automakers and Tier 1 suppliers. EV start-up Canoo, based in California, will also use GaN Systems’ transistors in its upcoming vehicles, while the components are already used in a number of Formula E race cars. Witham sees the racing segment’s early adoption of GaN transistors as a precursor to the technology’s wider rollout.
“You know what they say in the automotive industry: What races on Sunday, shows up in the showroom on Monday.”